Dealing with a Difficult Drummer

1This is a post I can write at the moment, since (praise the Lord) I have the joy of working with several gifted drummers on my church’s worship team who do a great job and are joys to work with.

But sometimes drummers can be incredibly difficult. Their instrument is the loudest (unless you use electronic drums). If they speed up, everyone speeds up. If they slow down, everyone slows down. If they decide to play a 3/4 song in 4/4, then you’re all playing it in 4/4. They’re opinionated. They know that they’re crucial to the “groove” and they like being crucial.

How do you deal with a difficult drummer?

If the difficulties stem from a lack of gifting, then you must insist on three things:

1. That they practice and play along to a metronome. At my church, we play along to a click track in our ears to keep us all together. It’s run off of an iPhone app called “Tempo Advance”, and either I or the drummer control it. If your team has in-ear monitors, it’s easy to get everyone to hear it. If your team doesn’t use in-ears, then your drummer can play with it in his ears. If we can do this with excellent drummers, then less experienced drummers should be willing to do it too.

2. That they take lessons. If your church has the budget, then offer to pay for their lessons. I also highly recommend Carl Albrecht‘s training materials, videos, etc.

3. That they play at your rehearsals or smaller services before being used in a main service. If they say no to this, that’s a red flag.

If your difficulties stem from a personality clash, then you should:

1. Build a friendship with them. When drummers sense weakness in a band/worship leader, they compensate. Become a friend to them and then they’ll trust you and back off.

2. Communicate your expectations and ideas before the rehearsal/service . Email them and tell them how you want them to play on each song, what tempo is good, etc.

3. Don’t be afraid to transition them off the team. Bob Kauflin told me early on in my ministry that “no one should be given a lifetime pass to the worship team”. If your drummer is disturbing the unity of the team and not respecting your leadership, then you should chat with your pastor and develop a plan to transition him off the team.

The drums are the musical backbone of a modern worship team. You can deal with all manner of varying backbone strengths, but the weaker and more crooked it is, the wobblier the rest of the body will be. If you don’t have a good enough drummer to be a dependable backbone, then don’t have a drummer at all. You can fill that role by playing more or having the other members take on more responsibility. Don’t put inexperienced drummers on your team too soon, and don’t leave difficult drummers on your team for too long.

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